Kilicli holds key to WVU’s stretch run
MORGANTOWN - If West Virginia could get consistently the production out of one of its players that it got in Sunday's overtime win at Providence, the Mountaineers probably wouldn't have to worry about their place in the Big East standings or in the NCAA brackets.
And no, it's not Truck Bryant, he of Sunday's 32 points and both the game-tying layup at the end of regulation and the game-winning 3-pointer just ahead of overtime's conclusion.
Oh, sure, what Bryant does is important and when he scores 32 and makes half his shots WVU is far more likely to win. But by this point in the season aren't we all pretty much used to that?
It's not Kevin Jones, either. Yes, for the most part he has to play well and has, leading the Big East in both scoring and rebounding. Sunday was unusual in that he didn't play well and WVU still won. Of course, playing poorly still netted him 20 points and five boards.
No, the guy who makes just as big an impact on how the game goes - and especially how it is played - is Deniz Kilicli.
Example: In a two-point loss at Syracuse he missed eight of his 10 shots, one of those misses being the controversial goal-tend at the end. In that awful loss at St. John's, he got off just four shots. Against Pitt he was statistically better, but not when it mattered.
Buried stat of the day: When Kilicli scores more than 10 points and shoots 50 percent or better from the floor, WVU is 10-1. Otherwise the Mountaineers are 6-7.
Against Providence on Sunday he was the difference, period. He changed the game. He was an absolute monster in the post, something Bob Huggins loves to have but really never has had in his five years at WVU.
And while part of Kilicli's success Sunday can be chalked up to Providence not being as strong in the middle as some of WVU's other opponents, it's more a matter of Kilicli and his attitude. That, and his attention to detail.
Remember, Syracuse wasn't very strong in the middle, either, without Fab Melo. But Kilicli still struggled because of the way the Orange plays.
"The reason I was 2-for-10 was what they do in the defense is they get under you when you're going up,'' Kilicli said. "It's actually a foul, but it's not a foul in the Big East.''
OK, so if it's not going to be called, then what does a muscled, bearded, rather intimidating 6-foot-8, 260-pounder do? Well, he watches tape and learns. And then he not only puts it into practice, he does so with attitude.
What he saw and was told by his coaches is that when he doesn't put his feet down solidly he has no power. And when he tries his favorite hook shot, if he allows anyone under him it puts him at an angle in the air and throws his shot off.
"That's what we worked on all week,'' Kilicli said. "I was off balance all the time.''
And an on-balance Kilicli is a site to behold. Against Providence he had 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting. His nine field goals were two dunks, a tip-in, one prayer when he was being fouled, four of those hook shots and a take-that post move to the basket that tied the game near the end of regulation.
He also had four offensive rebounds and none of that escaped the attention of Bob Huggins.
"He had four offensive rebounds in the second half,'' Huggins said, actually exaggerating by one. "There was a while there I didn't know if he'd get that in a season.
"But this is also as competitive as Deniz has been. Deniz is pretty laid back, but this is as competitive as he's been all season.''
And that's exactly what West Virginia needs. A big post presence takes pressure off of Jones, whether he's around the basket or on the perimeter. It gives WVU's best lineup - three guards (Bryant, Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds) along with Kilicli and Jones - someone else to throw the ball into. It even helps on defense, where although he didn't get credit in the boxscore for it, it was Kilicli who blocked a Providence shot with a minute left in overtime that would have given the Friars the lead.
Oh, and he also was part of the funniest play of the year, guarding PC's Bilal Dixon and waving a hand in his face while Dixon had his back to the basket. Dixon was so preoccupied with Kilicli that Bryant all but walked up and took the ball from him and went unimpeded down the floor for what he says was the third dunk of his career.
All of that added up to a team performance that wasn't exactly overwhelming, but enabled the Mountaineers to snap a three-game losing skid and perhaps get back on track. And it was in great part due to Kilicli providing the ingredient Huggins hoped to have with him all along but has seen only in spurts.
Hopefully Kilicli understands the importance of his contributions and continues to play the same way. If nothing else, he certainly understood the gravity of Sunday's win.
"If we lose this one, we're in the NIT,'' he said after the win at Providence.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.